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Jul 5, 2011 10:26 AM

If you were visiting DC, which neighborhoods are the best package of sightseeing and good cheap eats?

Hi all. I'm trying to figure out how to ask this question and not be accused of being too broad or simply being ignored.

Husband and I are going to DC later this month. We are playing it by ear, first time w/o kids in a long time, and trying to just go with the flow. No hotel reservations, so not locked into a particular part of town. We're going to try to stay somewhere cheap in the burbs and rely on our feet and public transportation during the day.

I spent a season in DC many years ago, and he hasn't been since he was a child, so I think we will hit up the Smithsonian, govt buildings, georgetown, etc. But we also both love food touring, and in particular cheap eats of the ethnic and street food variety as well as artisanal shops doing one or two things very well. So, we prefer a nice bakery with euro-style pastries and coffee over an eggs and bacon place any day. Love to make lunches out of a nice bread, charcuterie, cheese and fruit. Visiting cheese chops, farmers markets, or permanent markets you can nibble through (think SF Ferry Bldg or Pike Place Mkt). Authentic and cheap ethnic places, preferably something lacking in our part of the PNW woods (would love mexican, ethiopian, carribean, peruvian, korean, indonesian, singaporean, chinese - not interested in thai or italian - we have those at home; love sushi too but that's not compatible with the cheap eats idea). Not at all interested in burgers or pizza. Not particularly in sandwiches either unless they are stellar (i.e. Bay Cities in Santa Monica, Langer's in LA, various Ban Mi in Seattle, Paseo also in Seattle). No need to recommend anything fancy, spendy, or white-tableclothy.

So the trick is this - if we have maybe 3 days and we don't want to spend it all crisscrossing DC, which neighborhoods do you recommend where we can sightsee and food-see - best bang for our buck? I've a feeling that the most central part of the city is not the tastiest but I doubt we will pass it up altogether...

I so appreciate your advice. I've been browsing the boards but without a firm sense of geography of the city, I have a hard time answering this question on my own.

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  1. I'd suggest Eastern Market. You will definitely want to check that out since it's the closest thing we've got to the Ferry Bldg. I think you would really enjoy that. The best coffee shop in town, Peregrine Espresso is there as well. There are a number of good places on 8th St. in that neighborhood. There is a soul food place nearby which is said to be good, I haven't been yet: Levi's Port Cafe. The Tortilla Cafe is good as well for Salvadorean food, pupusas, etc.

    You will definitely need to travel though, no matter where you stay. The best Korean (and it's wonderful) is in Annandale, VA and requires a car. You will definitely want to have Ethiopian food here, as DC does this very well. I like Etete at 9th and U, but there are several other good places as well.

    The best Chinese food is in the 'burbs, e.g. Joe's Noodle House in Rockville.

    Oh, and a great cheese shop where you can put together a really fine picnic lunch is the Cowgirl Creamery. (They also have a Ferry Bldg. location.) They sell great sandwiches there too.

    3 Replies
    1. re: woodleyparkhound

      Joe's can be reached by metro and a short walk (red line). Check out many posts on it as the menu is HUGE.

      While I love Joe's, I prefer Hong Kong Palace which does need a car more. You *can walk to nearby Eden Center from East Falls Church station (note that it's a bit of a hike), but to get across 7 Corners to get to HKP is playing with your life.

      Hong Kong Palace
      6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

      Eden Center
      Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

      1. re: Dennis S

        I thought they had an elevated walkway now? no? I drive there all the time, so I can't remember.

        1. re: ktmoomau

          Just seems like car hell there. Perhaps there's one over 50?

    2. I think it would be well worth it to find pub transportation or cab or zipcar to the eden center, a huge Vietnamese shopping center, if you get the chance, it has restaurants, grocery stores, prepared food shops and all sorts of craziness.

      I also second the Eastern Market, and it isn't a bad walk to get from there to the Capitol and Eastern end of the mall.

      I have seen a lot of DC hotel deals on things like jetsetter and similar sites, you might find a good deal even in the city. Which would save you a lot of time.

      1. Thanks everyone for your thoughts so far. I love the idea of Eastern Market, the 8th street places, and ethiopian. I may not stretch to make the Asian malls/food courts, because we frequently get our fix of those in Vancouver BC. It's really the Latin American and African places we don't get here.

        Are the neighborhoods mentioned below strictly for food pleasures, or are they also available for some sightseeing (classic tourist style)?

        9 Replies
        1. re: sasha1

          As ktmoomau said, " it isn't a bad walk to get from there [Eastern Market] to the Capitol and Eastern end of the mall." You could take the red line and get off at Union Station, which is itself gorgeous, and walk from there to the Supreme Court, Capitol, etc. and end up at Eastern Market -- or you could take the orange or blue line directly to Eastern Market and walk back to the mall. Unfortunately, it really won't be possible for you to get the best of DC sightseeing and "authentic and cheap ethnic places" all within a 10 block radius. It just isn't going to happen. In my opinion, a better idea is to go to the mall, do your sightseeing, then get on the Metro and go elsewhere for dinner. The great restaurants of the "authentic and cheap ethnic" variety are very far-flung. Most of them are well away from downtown DC.

          1. re: woodleyparkhound

            after Pike Place and the Ferry Bldg. Eastern Market might seem a bit small, (still go!) but I might start up there and on 8 St. SE and then wander DOWN the hill to the Mall or Union Station not the other way - it gets darn humid in summer.

            "Love to make lunches out of a nice bread, charcuterie, cheese and fruit." then def. E Mkt. (except for the bread - hit the Marvelous Market across the side street or the open air stand run by Rosa across 7th, the bakery inside the EM does baked sweets and pastries well, but...)

            1. re: hill food

              Eastern Market isn't really all that, though the neighborhood is very nice and Peregrine Espresso is really great as is the Market Lunch. The Market is closed on Mondays.

              I would first figure out what you want to see and then figure out what is close to it (unless the food itself is the destination). DC can be quite hot and sticky in the summer which makes trekking about bothersome. The Metro system is great and all the places listed are worthwhile.

              Market Lunch
              225 7th St SE Ste 12, Washington, DC 20003

              1. re: ChewFun

                CF: I did try to illustrate the EM without saying outright "you'll have seen better" but what''s the alternative - shipping them off to G'Town's Dean and Delucca Disney-fied market for $20/pp takeout charcuterie?

                the rest of your advice is well thought.

                1. re: hill food

                  No, but there is Tackle Box and Pizzeria Paradiso in the neighborhood. They aren't particularly original or something you couldn't find elsewhere, but they are pretty good and not expensive. There are equivalent places all over the place that are in touristy neighborhoods. Depending on where they are coming from, a tourist might find Dean and Delucca relavatory (and expensive). I think it is funny that people ask Chowhound for amazing places that are cheap and unique or destination places that are outrageously expensive.

                  Pizzeria Paradiso
                  3282 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007

                  1. re: ChewFun

                    Hey - I appreciate that you don't know me, but I'm no country bumpkin. I lived in LA for a decade, and know full well the difference between the overpriced WF, Bristol Farms, Dean & Deluca and, for instance, a cram jammed indian or asian market filled with cheap, flavorful, bounty.

                    As for asking about amazing places, I guess I never used that word. But I'm hard pressed to imagine someone posting and asking people for recs in a neighborhood/city that are mediocre or good enough. Those people aren't either posting this board nor reading it.

                    I appreciate all the advice people have given - there is nothing better than like-minded locals telling you which local spots to hit up. And I hope I can return the favor if you are in my neck of the woods someday.

                    1. re: ChewFun

                      Chew: I getcha, G'town is a cool place but the OP's comment of liking to assemble affordable picnic-type lunches fits the EM to a tee. (but hey given a fat wallet who DOESN'T like D+D?)

              2. re: woodleyparkhound

                I absolutely figured this, but thanks for confirming. My experience with most cosmopolitan downtowns is that the restaurants are pricey and bland, catering largely to the corporate lunch bunch. All of my favorite food finds have been outside of city centers.

                1. re: sasha1

                  "My experience with...downtowns is that the restaurants are pricey and bland"

                  actually the downtown fare is either pricey OR bland. there are great places, but not many if you're closely watching your wallet (exceptions do exist).

            2. I am going to say you should stay in Arlington, VA where you can be within a short enough walk or one Metro stop from:

              Taqueria El Charrito Caminante (tacos -particularly the goat- and papusas)
              Don Arturo's (Bolivian) a true hole-in-the-wall
              Lyon Hall (Alsatian), and it's sister coffee shop, Northside Social - they make their own chevre
              Screwtop Wine Bar
              Me Jana (Lebanese)
              Chez Manelle (Tunisian)
              Cafe Assorti (Kazakh)
              Kabob Bazaar (Persian)
              Arlington Farmer's Market (Sat morning)

              Those are my favorites, but there's plenty more too.

              Courthouse or Clarendon area.

              El Charrito Caminante
              2710 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

              Kabob Bazaar
              3133 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

              Me Jana
              2300 Wilson Blvd., Suite 140, Arlington, VA 22201

              Cafe Assorti
              1800 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

              Screwtop Wine Bar
              1025 N Fillmore St, Clarendon - Courthouse, VA 22201

              11 Replies
              1. re: Steve

                Honestly, I think you are going to be disappointed. DC is not a city with cheap, ethnic options. There are ethnic options (though for the most part, if you are coming - or comparing - from SF or LA, they won't match the authenticity or quality). And when you do find a good ethnic eat, it will be expensive (as is almost everything here). I do echo the sentiments that you need to get out of the city to get cheapER ethnic eats, but often these places will require driving (see my favorite taqueria - La Mexicana Bakery and taqueria).

                1. re: mdpilam

                  If they want life changing experiences in touristy areas that are authentic and cheap, you are probably out of luck anywhere. On the other hand, there are some pretty good eats in the area as long as you are open minded about not having a life changing experience. Even La Mexicana Bakery, which is quite a drive out of the city, is hardly a destination place (and I'm not that great a fan). You could also try what i like to do, which is to go the kind of office lunch hour places. They are usually relatively cheap and often quite good, just not worth a trip to DC on their own merits.

                  La Mexicana
                  13016 Middlebrook Rd, Germantown, MD 20874

                  1. re: ChewFun

                    Not looking for life changing by any means. But it has been 5 years since I lived in a city of any size, with any immigrant populations, so I think there will be a bigger bounty than in my neck of the woods, regardless of whether it is life changing to city dwellers.

                    We're not going to DC only to eat, but since we'll be there anyway, I don't want to waste my meals on Chipotle and Au Bon Pain.

                    14925 Shady Grove Rd Unit L, Rockville, MD 20850

                    1. re: sasha1

                      If you're staying in the 'burbs already, I would seriously recommend renting a car (you can get great deals at hotwire, etc). You can then do your sightseeing during the day, but then hit up the good ethnic food by the evening. You CAN get to some good ethnic food on the metro, but your world will be opened if you have a car. Also, your hotel in the 'burbs will probably have free parking.

                      1. re: hppyheather

                        We'll have a car. Just didn't want to drive in the city if we could avoid it. Which burb would you recommend staying in such that there were good dinner options nearby?

                        1. re: sasha1

                          Well, you said you had 3 days, so I think you're going to end up wanting to spend at least one evening eating in MD. (Note that on a map MD and VA appear close, those few miles can often take a decent bit of time in traffic between 4 - 8 pm. ) What so far has piqued your interest?

                          One day, get Ethiopian. There are some great places in the city proper, so you can do this on foot/metro one day after sightseeing. I think you got a recommendation for Etete already, on U street, and it is excellent. U street is a lively neighborhood, so you'll enjoy being over there. There is also Ethiopian in the 'burbs, but for this, I think you'll get excellent food in the city too.

                          If you want Authentic Chinese, then you'll find the best on the MD suburbs. Lots of folks here have good recommendations.

                          If you want Vietnamese, the recommendations for the Eden Center in the VA 'burbs are spot on. If you've eaten a lot of Vietnamese in SF and LA, the Eden Center won't rock your world, but it is pretty great. I would say it is comparable to SF and LA, but not better. However, it is a lot of fun.

                          If you want Korean, you'll find this in Annandale, VA. My favorite is honey pig, but others may redirect you.

                          Also, we have some very good Indian food and really excellent middle eastern cuisine. Either in MD or VA you'll be able to find good kabob houses (from various countries) and good Indian food. If there is something in particular you are interested in, let us know and we can point you in that direction.

                          1. re: hppyheather

                            I definately want to get Ethiopian or other African (I am not that well versed unfortunately).

                            I would want to make sure I get in a good Mexican taco type joint as well as some farther afield (for me) South American place.

                            We had a couple of masterful Pakistani as well as Persian places in LA - wouldn't mind having a meal of those.

                            Beyond that, I'm taking all the suggestions in, and going to match it with the place we end up.

                            By the way, I found an old report I did of DC last time I was there and am posting here. It might give contributors to the thread a sense of my tastes.


                            1. re: sasha1

                              Re: Pakistani. You might want to check out Ravi Kabob in VA. We drove, but I think it's about 15 mins. walk from the Ballston Metro station. Wonderful stuff, and full of Pakistanis.

                              1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                If you're gauge is the better/best Pakistani in LA (Al Noor & Al Watan) - which isn't up to par with SFs Pakistani (Lahore, Pakwan, etc...), than you'll be pretty disappointed with Ravi Kabob IMO.

                                I haven't really seen any Persian places here (though I haven't been checking for them - not really a big fan).

                                1. re: mdpilam

                                  Try Kabob n Karahi out in Silver Spring area. I think it's Pakistani. Amazing. Best goat I've ever tried.

                2. If you will have a car, then the world of options opens up quite nicely. I would still consider Arlington (as I mentioned above) with trips to have the Lao menu at Bangkok Golden Seven Corners, Sichuan food at Hong Kong Palace, Burmese food at Myanmar, Vietnamese food at Eden Center (a shopping mall with over 23 Vietnamese restaurants), Peruvian food at Costa Verde, and Palestinian food at Jerusalem.

                  You can search on this board for specific recs.

                  Other top communties for cheap international fare are Rockville and Wheaton, MD.

                  Hong Kong Palace
                  6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

                  Eden Center
                  Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Steve

                    Steve will disagree with a different salad, but at Myanmar I love the Green Tea Leaf salad. But both that he and I like are great.

                    1. re: Dennis S

                      Either Arlimgton or Alexandria.

                    2. re: Steve

                      I think Steve hit this one right on the nose. Eden Center is a huge shopping center well worth spending an hour or so poking around in, as it's a slice of Vietnam plopped down in the U.S. suburbs.

                      The only substitution I would make is for Costa Verde, which I've found to be inconsistent and will be hard to find for out-of-towners driving a car. I'd consider instead La Carraquena for Venezuelan arepas, Meaza for Ethiopian, or Llajtaymanta for Bolivian (where you might very well sit next to an old woman wearing an Andes-style bowler). All of these are on main streets and should be easy to find.

                      If you decide to stick with the no-car idea, you'll probably do best visiting various restaurants off the Red Line in Arlington and Falls Church. The neighborhoods are going to be pretty upscale/preppy, but there is good authentic and reasonably cheap ethnic food to be had at Minh's (Vietnamese, Courthouse metro stop), Chez Manelle (Tunisian, Courthouse metro), the aforementioned Costa Verde (Peruvian, Clarendon metro stop and easy to find if you don't have a car), Ravi's (Pakistani, a 15 minute walk from the Ballston metro stop, but worth it), and Sangam (Indian, mostly southern, 10 minute walk from Ballston metro).

                      But honestly, to get the best ethnic food you've got to get away from the high rent districts along the Metro corridor and that requires a car. If you decide to go that route, don't miss Hai Duong in Eden Center, which has possibly the best Vietnamese food I've ever had at dirt-cheap prices (in a loud formica-table cafeteria setting) --

                      Eden Center
                      Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

                      2500 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

                      Meaza Restaurant
                      5700 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041

                      Sangam Restaurant
                      1211 N Glebe Rd Ste 2, Arlington, VA 22201

                      Llajtaymanta Restaurant
                      7236 Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22042

                      1. re: Mississippi Snopes

                        "If you decide to stick with the no-car idea, you'll probably do best visiting various restaurants off the Red Line in Arlington and Falls Church. "

                        You meant the Orange Line, right?

                        1. re: woodleyparkhound

                          WPH: I wasn't going to say it, especially since in simultaneous contrast color theory I always get the red-orange spectrum a bit wrong. now blues, greens and greys I excel at - not germane to the topic but very handy in spotting tainted food.

                          1. re: hill food

                            So is it the red or orange line :) ?

                              1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                as a back-up: the locked n sticky "new to the DC/Baltimore" thread at the top of this board has links to the transit systems websites (next to last post).